The #MeToo movement has gained prominence amid a national reckoning about sexual harassment and assault in (and beyond) Hollywood. But Gabrielle Union says not everyone’s voice is being heard.
“I think the floodgates have opened for white women,” the actress told the New York Times in an interview published this week. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”
Union has been speaking out about sexual assault for years. At 19, she was raped at gunpoint, while working in a shoe store. She talks openly about the assault in her book “We’re Going to Need More Wine,” which was released in October. Union recently told The Washington Post that she first discussed her experience with colleagues on the set of a show that had a story line related to sexual assault, and more publicly in a 2001 cover story interview with Savoy magazine.
“During the whole interview, I knew I was sitting on information that could help a lot of people. I wasn’t sure that I was prepared emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially even to share that,” Union said. I didn’t know what the consequences could be. But when I saw the route the questions were taking, I thought: I could either answer these silly, benign questions or I could share with people a very big piece of my soul and perhaps help other people.”
Union’s comments tap into a common critique of the #MeToo movement, which gained steam on social media this year in the wake of allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In October, actress Alyssa Milano called for women to share their own experiences with sexual assault on Twitter, where she wrote that “if all who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
After the hashtag began trending, some social media users pointed out that a campaign based around the phrase “Me Too” was started more than a decade ago — by Tarana Burke, a black woman who had experienced sexual assault and wanted to help other survivors, particularly black women and girls. Burke was among the “silence breakers” recognized as Time’s 2017 Person of the Year, but the magazine’s decision to feature Burke on an inside page (instead of the cover) has caused some controversy.
And it’s not just about giving Burke due credit. As Union alluded in her New York Times interview, the vast majority of Weinstein’s accusers have been prominent white actresses.
“If those people hadn’t been Hollywood royalty,” Union said. “If they hadn’t been approachable. If they hadn’t been people who have had access to parts and roles and true inclusion in Hollywood, would we have believed?”
Burke raised similar questions last month in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
“Black women have been screaming about famous predators like R&B singer R. Kelly, who allegedly preys on black girls, for well over a decade to no avail,” Burke wrote. “Anita Hill, thanklessly, put herself and her career as a law professor on the line more than 25 years ago to publicly name Clarence Thomas for sexually harassing her at work.”
Burke tweeted earlier this week that Union was “part of the fabric” of her campaign. “When I started out doing workshops with Black girl survivors she was one of the few examples of resilience I could point to,” Burke wrote.
Union retweeted Burke, thanking her for her “tireless work.” “I’m here to help, support and amplify the message!” she wrote.